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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Surly Brewing Co. Darkness


"Darkness"
Style: Russian Imperial Stout
Serving Type: Bottle
Purchased: At the Brewery Brooklyn Center, MN

Aroma: Very rich dark fruits fill the nose with some sweet chocolate. A trace of alcohol spice rounds out the fruit and sweetness, though the alcohol isn't as prevalent as expected. No hop aroma.

Appearance: Black as midnight death. Head pours a billowy bread crust brown, though fairly quickly fades to a ring at the edge of the glass with some light lace.

Flavor: Initial plum sweetness quickly transitions to chocolate with an orange peel twang. Molasses lingers lightly in the middle but gives way to more chocolate, though this time it comes off as dark and bitter as the alcohol spice kicks in. Finish is drying from the alcohol, but not hot. Plum stickiness retains well in the end on the lips and back of the throat.

Mouthfeel: Full body with light carbonation. Most of the body is defined by the dark fruit character in the beer, creating the feeling of light molasses and sticky dried fruit. Alcohol bites the back if the throat with light burn in the finish.

Overall: The aroma and flavor of this beer provide an exclusive look into the complexities of dark fruit and sweet chocolate created by a well crafted Russian Imperial Stout. The alcohol provides a nice warming and spicy presence and the orange peel was a surprising twist. While I describe the beer as full bodied, I would expect this style to hold more of a chewy character. Instead you're presented with sticky sweetness that somewhat artificially fills the palate. By the end of my review the head had completely disappeared as well.

I rated this beer an A+ on Beer Advocate.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Northern Lights IPA

India Pale Ale
Serving Type: On Tap at the Brewery
Spokane, WA

Aroma: Expected citrus notes of grapefruit rind with a certain grassy character. While the aroma in general is certainly hop focused, it isn't entirely bright. If you look for it you'll find some bread crust and caramel.

Appearance: Pours a deep copper, nearly red, with excellent clarity. Creme colored head rests thin but persistent. A trace of lacing sticks to the edge of the glass.

Flavor: Heavy hop flavor and bitterness upfront. More grapefruit dominating the palate with a hint of caramel malt making a showing here and there. Resinous hop flavor holds into the finish while bitterness bites the back of the throat. Hop resin sticks long into the finish with a near cloying tenacity.

Mouthfeel: Medium body with light carbonation. There is almost a foaming character in the mouth with the carbonation that creates palate fullness. Hop bitterness holds on to the roof of the mouth and back of the throat as chalky and resin.

Overall: For an IPA you're not shorted on the hop presence in bitterness, flavor, or mouthfeel. While the aroma rings true of an American IPA it comes off somewhat mottled and unfocused. Brighter hop aroma would be welcome and expected with all that flavor and bitterness. A fine selection for the hop lover while holding a delicate balance with the malt.

I rated this beer a B on Beer Advocate.

If you see this in bottles in the Seattle area, I recommend picking it up if you want to scrape the enamel off your teeth with hop resin.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Great Basin Stone Mother Märzen


Stone Mother Märzen
Style: Märzen/Oktoberfest
Serving type: On Tap
At the brewery. Sparks, NV

Aroma: Very light biscuit malt with subtle clean lager undertones. Perhaps a hint of light caramel or bread crust, though it's very subtle. No hop aroma.

Appearance: Deep gold with a rich white head that fades quickly to lacing. Head holds a thin film at the top of the beer. Brilliant clarity.

Flavor: Light bread crust and noble hop flavor are most prominent, though neither are rich or over-powering. Hop bitterness rides in at the middle and hold through the finish with some lingering bitterness and malt sweetness.

Mouthfeel: Medium body with light carbonation. Hop bitterness comes off as a drying bite at the roof of the mouth and hits the back of the throat in the finish. Nearly sticky malt sweetness combines with the hop crispness in the finish. Dries the mouth somewhat, but not astringent.

Overall: While the beer is somewhat lacking in aroma there is a pleasant tie-in between the malt sweetness and noble hop flavor and bitterness. This beer is a bit on the high side for the style, which is why I would expect more from the aroma. Though it makes for an easily quaffable cool summer evening beer that won't disappoint.

I rated this beer a “B+” on BeerAdvocate.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Russian River Salvation


Russian River Salvation
Style: Belgian Strong Dark Ale
Serving Type: Bottle
Purchased at the brewery

Aroma: Light sour cherries first come to mind when smelling this beer. Intermingling are some light oak notes and a definite touch of some characteristic Brettanomyces “horse-blanket”. The Brett isn’t overwhelming or dominating, but enough to let you know it’s there. Malt aroma is hard to find but there may be a hint of caramel and some earthy hop spice as well.

Appearance: Pours a nearly opaque walnut brown with light haze. Looks like yeast haze. Ruby highlights try to push through the edges. Head forms easily with a light pour and retains very well with off-white to tan, with creamy texture. Some light lacing.

Flavor: Light sourness hits the tongue and palate with surprisingly roasted, but not burnt, caramel malt flavor becoming quite prominent. Rich dark biscuit and light bread play together to create an incredibly smooth malt profile while the alcohol provides just a hint of spice toward the finish. Sourness comes back just for a moment then the beer finishes lightly sweet but with a cleansing alcohol spice. I can't say enough about the malt here, caramel and dark honey on freshly baked bread. Delicious.

Mouthfeel: Full body with high carbonation. The balance of carbonation and body create a creamy-smooth texture on the palate. Malt richness makes the beer feel like you could almost chew it. Sour character is light but noticeable and tickles the jaw muscles at the first few sips. Finish is bready and sweet but the alcohol cleans out the mouth nicely.

Overall: It seems I am often complaining that a beer lacks malt character or richness. Not today. Huge bread malt profile in this beer seems perfectly offset by the sourness and alcoholic strength. Aroma with cherry and “Brett” sourness is complex though is lacking nearly all of the malt found in the flavor, surprisingly. I wouldn’t say it detracts from the beer however. My only suggestion would be just a hint more sourness as it would blend well with all that chewy barley.

It should be noted that this beer went directly from the “cellar” (read closet) into my glass. Drink this beer too cold and I think you’ll miss out on a lot of the malt complexities.

I rated this beer an “A” on BeerAdvocate.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Moylan's Old Blarney Barleywine


Old Blarney
Barleywine Style Ale

Aroma: Surprisingly light in the nose considering the style. Light bread grain character with some dark fruit coming out. Though these are both quite faint. Some citrus hop notes in the background but you really have to look for it. At first smell, you won't smell much of anything.

Appearance: Color is light cherry red with a slight haze, though you can fairly easy see through the beer. With an easy pour the head forms a light foam of off-white with low but good retention.

Flavor: Malt sweetness is most prevalant upfront with some candy sugars mixing in as well. The sweetness last but for a moment before a moderately strong alcohol spice kicks in. The alcohol carries the flavor through the middle but does allow those dark fruit notes to push through. Finish is biting and dry with hop bitterness and more alcohol hitting you at the back of the throat.

Mouthfeel: Meduim body with medium carbonation. As you'd imagine the alcohol bites the tongue and throat with it's heat and spice. It comes off slightly fusal at first but as your palate adjusts the beer is nicely warming. Finish is dry with lingering hop bitterness.

Overall: I am very surprised by the lack of aeromatics in this beer. With everything you'd expect in a Barleywine this one does lack aroma. Malt texture and flavor are good with a strong backing of alcohol and hop bitterness. Step up the malt complexity and give me something to smell and I think we'd have an even better example of the style.

I rated this beer a "B" on BeerAdvocate.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

A Day in Vancouver, BC



I had the opportunity to spend an entire day in Vancouver, BC without any obligations other than those invented for myself. Therefore, I invented the task of finding great beer in what I have heard is a great city.

I took the “Canada Line” from the Vancouver airport to Waterfront station. Paying $8.75 for a 2-zone pass gets you downtown. This seems somewhat pricy as it is not round trip. And for the first time ever riding public transit I actually had my ticket checked, so buy a pass for your ride.


My first stop for lunch and a pint was Steamworks Brewing Co. off of Seymore and Cordova St. I walked in because I was hungry and looking for a tasty ale. Thankfully I found the answer to both.

First up was their Empress IPA which presents itself nicely with bold hop character. Though not like you'd expect from a Seattle brewery with their citrus and grapefruit hop profile. Steamworks brews up a nicely bitter IPA with noble hop aroma and flavor with medium to high bitterness. This is a nice IPA, definitely a worthy example of the style, which is good because while I had high hopes of finding good beer in Canada I had low expectations. Generally everything I've tried from the Canucks has been light and bland. While Steamworks could put a little more caramel malt character in their IPA this example plays well on the palate and nose with a surprising but subtle vanilla aroma lingering.


Next up is the Heroica (pronounced Her-o-IKA) Oatmeal Stout served on Nitro. Nutty aroma dominates the nose with some hints of sweet chocolate as well. While it's served as an Oatmeal Stout the dryness and roasted bitterness of the beer seem to closely resemble a Dry Irish Stout, even if you don't consider the Nitro pour. Oat character is subtle on this one, though I must admit I've never been partial to Oatmeal Stouts. Served on nitrogen the palate is treated gently with creamy texture and tingling carbonation. Bitterness comes off well in the finish as well as more roasted malt bite. Call this one a Robust Irish Stout and I would review it better. As an Oatmeal, it misses the mark on flavor and body.

I spent some time talking to Ben the Brewer at Steamworks and learned that they tap off the city steam line to power their mash tun and brew kettle. This allows them to boil their 15HL (approx 12.6 BBL) Copper Clad brewhouse almost instantly.



I left Steamworks with some time to kill before The Alibi House opened so I took a walk along the waterfront where there were throngs of people seeing the touristy sights of Vancouver, and I was one of them. I watched the sea planes of WestCoast Air take off to presumably give tours of the city. And I saw the site where the Olympic Torch burned during the recent Winter Olympic Games.

I walked past several cigar shops selling Cuban cigars. While I was temped to try this forbidden fruit of the US, I resisted as I thought it would spoil my palate for my upcoming Alibi Room visit.

The Alibi opened at 5 and I promptly ordered a Symcoe Porter on Cask from Swans Brewing. The landlord pulled a fresh pint and described the beer as a "rule breaker" for a porter. With a creamy tan head that holds to the edge of the glass like steamed milk, this beer came off the cask extremely smooth with but a hit of natural carbonation. Flavor is light nutty with subtle chocolate sweetness. Low to mild hops on the nose but very low bitterness. A pleasant and easy drinking porter. I always love a nice cask ale but as far as a 'rule breaker' I think the only rule being broken here is the lack of hop bitterness or chocolate and roasted malt that I look for in a porter.

The Alibi Room is without question one of Vancouver's great beer geek bars. It filled up very quickly and I was happy to have procured a spot at the bar, as there wouldn't have been a seat in the house for me an hour after opening. And this was on a Thursday night. Looking around the pub I watch Canadian's enjoying a wide variety of locally brewed craft ales. With 3 beer engines and 25 taps, the Alibi offers the widest selection of craft beer I have seen during my travels North of the border.


I ordered a Red Racer IPA because I had read about the controversy associated with this beer and, dare I say, it's American counterpart. Red Racer pours a brushed hazy copper with a full white head that quickly fades to a ring with good lacing. Aroma is light citrus hops with some biscuit malt coming through. Generally light aroma overall. I was pleasantly surprised to find a rich hop bite in the flavor with grapefruit rind and some earthly tones as well. While you won't feel this beer is a West Coast IPA from Seattle or Portland, it's not under-hopped by any regard nor does it lack character. What it does lack is aroma. I want to smell my hops, as well as feel them burn and taste their bite.

While Canadian beers may not always suit my palate for the chewy malt character and grapefruit-with-teeth hop bitterness, I can still appreciate what is being done here by some of the more daring Canadian breweries such as Tree Brewing, Red Racer, and Steamworks Brew Pub.

Finally there came the cask conditioned dry-hopped pale ale from Yaletown Brewing. I somewhat coaxed the landlord to pull this cask ale, as he wasn't quite sure if it was ready to put on.

Caramel nose upfront with slight earthy hop presence and some pleasing yeast phenolics winding their way in. Out of the beer engine this pulled a translucent wheat with a thin white head. Low but persistent retention and lovely cream stickiness along the side of the glass. Flavor comes off earthy bitterness upfront with a bready yeast presence joining in. The yeast clouds the palate somewhat but generally this beer brings forth crisp base/bready malt flavor and rich hop bitterness. Natural carbonation in the cask presents itself with lively tingling on the tongue. An excellent cask, and I'm happy to see cask ale served at the proper temperature. Often times it seems I'm being served cask ale at a temperature I would expect from kegged beer. The Alibi Room is not afraid to serve their cask ales at approximately 55 degrees F.

If you find yourself in Vancouver and are searching for a good pint of true craft beer by every respect stop by either or both Steamworks Brewing Co and The Alibi Room. I assure you that you won’t be disappointed.

Cheers eh!

About Me

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Beer enthusiast and advocate. Recognized beer judge and traveler of west coast beer destinations.